HomeAbout Think TankAbout Ben WattenbergPrevious ShowsWhere to WatchSpecials


Watch Videos and Listen to Podcasts at ThinkTankTV.com

  « Back to Has Neoconservatism Failed or Succeeded? Part Two main page
TranscriptsGuestsRelated ProgramsFeedback

Transcript for:

Has Neoconservatism Failed or Succeeded? Part Two

Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Wattenberg: In 1989, political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War also brought a certain kind of end to human history. Free markets and peaceful democracy would be the final form of human government. But since then, al-Qaeda has attacked America, London, Madrid, and Indonesia, and that’s just beginning a long list. In response, President George W. Bush has declared a “War on Terrorism.” But Francis Fukuyama, a self-proclaimed former neoconservative, is doubtful that America’s use of force against Islamic jihadism will succeed. But what are the alternatives? Francis Fukuyama is the Bernard L. Schwartz professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University He is the author of the new book “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy.” The topic before the house- Has Neoconservatism Failed Or Succeeded? Part Two This week on Think Tank.
WATTENBERG: Frank Fukuyama, welcome back to part 2 of or discussion about GeoPolitics. Give us a little bit of your biography and history where you were born, ancestry, where you went to school, what you are up to.
FUKUYAMA: Well I was born in Chicago but really grew up as a New Yorker. My father was trained as a (unitelligble) minister. I went to Cornell as an undergraduate and got a degree in Political Science at Harvard.
WATTENBERG: I want to read you something you wrote and then I want to try to expand this discussion. You signed a letter along with others of high profile geopolitical types, which read “Even if the evidence does not link Iraq directly to the 911 attack, any strategy aimed at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”. Your comment or your remark.
FUKUYAMA: You’re right, I signed that it was probably a week after the September 11th attack. Everybody was very emotional and, you know, wanted to do something and then I had a year and a half to think about things and, you know, the whole argument about the rights and wrongs of actually intervening against Iraq then presented itself and I started thinking about it. So, I don’t know, I guess, I don’t understand this idea that somehow you’re not actually allowed to sit back and weigh things pros and con and change your mind about...
WATTENBERG: No, but -- but, in other words, had you been or I been President Bush and John Rumsfeld said to me, You know there’s this guy Frank Fukuyama and he’s one of the smartest young guys around and here’s what he says, so it’s, I mean, you know, you’re a...
FUKUYAMA: Well, I wish.
WATTENBERG: ...you’re a very highly regarded scholar.
Alright. Let’s move on, I mean because this has become somewhat bedeviling. I will ask it in its broadest form, as you see it and you have a very interesting disquisition about it, what is neoconservatism?
FUKUYAMA: First of all it is a pretty complex intellectual tradition starting 50 years ago with people like Irving Crystal, Dan Bell, Nathan Glazer, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. What I think is important about them, there’s a kind of intellectual and sociological fact. The intellectual fact, they all started out as leftists, you know, Trotskyites in the case of Irving Crystal, and they came to conservatism via the left and I think that was quite important because in some sense they never lost a certain element of idealism. They believe in universal human rights and democracy and things of that sort.
The sociological fact was that they were mostly children of first generation immigrants. They were outsiders; they went to City College because at that time Harvard and Columbia weren’t taking people in their social situation into those elite institutions, and so I think they did have a kind of outsider’s perspective on power and therefore certain distance on it, and I think that contributed to the particular mix so that for example, as has been the case in your own career they’ve always been pro-immigration. They were on the good side of the civil rights movement when the civil rights movement happened. They weren’t like a lot of nativist conservatives who had a...
WATTENBERG: Who would have kept my folks and your folks out of here.
FUKUYAMA: Right. So, in that sense they really are different from paleo-conservatives. They are not wigs, you know, or Tory traditionalists.
WATTENBERG: But that seems accurate enough, or at least in terms of intellectual history, but two things. First of all since then, time marches on and you have had what are called baby cons, mini cons, the second generation, I mean, William Crystal, Irving Crystal’s son is a big player and so on and so forth. So and then, it is the idea of neoconservatism. I mean, you did not need intellectuals to explain it that we had to do containment against the Soviet Union. You didn’t have to have intellectuals teach it to Harry Truman or George Marshall or Dwight Eisenhower, or Carl Vinson or Ronald Reagan or St. Henry, Scoop Jackson. I mean, (unintelligible) thinks this all trickled down from 11 people in the New York. I don’t believe that the American people, I mean, they come from these Iron Curtain countries. There’s this grapevine. I mean every Poland-American knew what was going on in Poland. Every Slav in America knew what was going on. Every Ukrainian knew what was going on. So, it’s not just trickle down etiology.
FUKUYAMA: No, I think, you’re absolutely right and it is a kind of vanity of intellectuals to think that they are really that important, but you know, at the same time I do think I ideas matter. Henry Kissinger and all of his type of realists had a set of ideas about foreign policy that was really quite different from Ronald Reagan’s. A specific example, Chile. I don’t know whether Kissinger denies that he actually supported the Pinochet Coupe, but I don’t think he was disappointed. He and Nixon weren’t that disappointed when it happened. Ronald Reagan by contrast in 1988 wrote a very stern letter to General Pinochet telling him “You got to step down, if the no referendum goes against you” and that is the real choice in American...
WATTENBERG: Yeah, he wrote that after he understood that the Cold War was over, but you know, during that period when things -- I mean we accepted and indeed wooed allies because we had an apocalyptic threat against the United States and as George Bush said in a later circumstance, “You’re either for us or against us”, so, that is what power politics is about.
FUKUYAMA: Yeah, but I think there are more narrow and more expansive ways to interpret that and I think that even within the contacts of that larger Cold War struggle, you know, there was a way of supporting democracy that, you know, we had some margin of freedom on and I think the ideas do matter there.
WATTENBERG: What does it mean? It means all things to all men, but from your point of view, what does it mean or did it mean to be a neoconservative?
FUKUYAMA: Well, I think that the, you know, the belief that regimes mattered was quite important.
WATTENBERG: That what matters?
FUKUYAMA: Regimes. That it mattered how a ruler treated the subjects of, you know, his government or her government and that democratic regimes would make the world, you know, a better place not just for their people, but internationally. I think that was a pretty consistent theme. I think there was skepticism about the United Nations and about the ability of international law to keep the peace in any fundamental way, and I think, as I said there was this kind of a caution about very ambitious efforts to reorder the world for just causes, but I think the central thing that came to define neoconservatism by the late 1990s, and as you got closer to the Iraq War, was the whole issue a power.
I think, you know, the policy agenda advocated by the Weekly Standard, William Crystal’s magazine was basically bigger defensive because this was the primary way that America was going to reshape the world. And I just think that this is an argument maybe only professors like to have, but I just think that military power in many ways is just overestimated. What you can do with it, I think that there are times when it’s absolutely critical, but I think that it actually has been of declining utility with every passing decade in achieving, you know, the ends -- political ends that we want and so I think there is a real misunderstanding there of how important it would be by the time we got to the Iraq War.
WATTENBERG: Well, as in the Cold War, and I think you would agree and most neocons would agree that it was the war of ideas and the internal contradictions of communism that ultimately brought it down. But the precondition was (unintelligible) to make sure the Soviets wouldn’t (unintelligible). Look, my understanding of what you are suggesting is this; that the word neoconservatism has become poison and I see it around AEI. A lot of people who used to say I am a neocon, now say “I don’t want to mess with it; I’ll just go to another label”. And the one you suggest, correct me if am wrong, is Wilsonian realism.
FUKUYAMA: Realistic Wilsonian.
WATTENBERG: Realistic Wilsonian.
FUKUYAMA: Right, right.
WATTENBERG: And tell me what you mean by that and then I have a comment about that.
FUKUYAMA: Okay, well, I just think that it really has to do with the role of power in American foreign policy that I agree with the ends. I think we ought to support democracy and we ought to support it even when it’s not in our direct national interest to do so, but I think the means by which we have historically been more successful doing it is really through soft power mechanisms and not through the hard application of, you know, our military through things like intervention and that kind of regime change. So that’s the -- that’s the (unintelligible).
WATTENBERG: So, near as I can parse it, I mean, we’ve had this discussion, I call myself a neoconservative; I would gladly accept the word realistic Wilsonianism. I don’t have any problem with that, but you know labels are a funny thing. They are affixed and denigrated depending on whether the person hearing them is in favor or opposed. And I’ll just give you an example about your example, Wilsonian realist -- or realistic Wilsonianism.
WATTENBERG: Woodrow Wilson, who was in many ways a great person, is generally acknowledged to have been a racist. He came from the south, he was pro-segregation, you know that whole story. Well, let’s say America said “our new policy is Frank’s new policy, Wilsonian Realism –- Realistic Wilsonianism –- Realistic Wilsonian. It wouldn’t be 10 minutes until the anti-Americans around the world are saying “Right, you know, he picked a racist President.”
FUKUYAMA: Well, look; actually I said in my book I do not really like that label and if anyone can give me a better one, I’d be happy to substitute. So, you’re right, you know, there’ll be opposition. The other -– the other person I like actually is Bismarck, the great non-democratic German chancellor because he also had a theory about how to use power. He had a very powerful state and he realized that the best way to use it in a sense was through indirection and so, you know, the policy I would recommend is actually one in which we just, you know, we actually may have to detach ourselves from the overt and very loud promotion of democracy because I think at this stage in world history that may not be the best thing. American foreign policy is actually quite toxic in a lot of regions of the world, particularly in the Middle East, and in a certain sense, the harder we push on that, you know, I mean at this particular juncture, the more pushback we’re going to get and so in a way we have to work out an outflanking strategy through allies, through other indirect approaches.
WATTENBERG: But, you know Frank, Bismarck lived in the middle of that hellhole called Europe where people made a habit for a millennia at least of just spilling each others blood and they were right in the middle of it and he wanted to create a major power which he did. That is not only not the world of today, it’s not even close to the world today. There is only one power, the Omni power. I mean, by my demographics there are only going to be three important countries around China, India and the United States. As you pointed out, nobody in the world has anything close to our military power. There’s nothing they can do to us except what they might do to us anyway. Why shouldn’t we accept this mantle and say “Look; we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, we have a lot of flaws, but we’re the best game in town. Let’s do what we can to promote human liberty.” And just -- and the neocons have been –- I mean, everybody makes the case, but have been forward in saying that the one thing we know about democratic states is they are least likely to go to war with each other (unintelligible).
FUKUYAMA: Well, it seems me, you are making my point. I mean under these conditions where we are so powerful I think it just inevitably generates a lot of backlash and so what you want to do is not to rub peoples noses in the fact that you’re so powerful and I think, you know, we took an extremely and unnecessarily contemptuous attitude towards international institutions that other people in the world, you know, maybe not red state voters here, but a lot of people in the world take quite seriously and we kind of rubbed their noses in the fact that we aren’t going to have anything to do with this. This is what I mean by strategy of indirection. I think if you are that powerful you have to be very careful about the way that you exercise power. There are lots of ways of getting people to do what you want and to do that don’t involve saying “Well, you’re for us or against us, take it or leave it”, you know “Let’s get together on our terms and you get on our team.”
WATTENBERG: What should we do next? I mean, give me the Fukuyama 10-point plan or the 5-point plan.
FUKUYAMA: In the Middle East, actually, I think that we do not have many options with regard to Iraq. I don’t think the upside is very high. I think an early withdrawal is not going to help. I would try to disengage the democracy promotion rhetoric a little bit from the war on terrorism, because I actually think that the one is not the solution to the other. There are independent problems and we ought to concentrate on the war on terrorism. I think right now we’re so toxic that the democracy promotion part is going to be pretty a difficult, you know, row to hoe.
I think we’ve been distracted by an overestimation in general of the terrorism problem. There are big issues in East Asia. I think, actually it’s the rise of China and somehow making sure that that’s peaceful that’s probably going to be the central geopolitical issue of our generation and we ought to pay a little more attention to that. We ought to pay attention to Latin America and to other parts of the developing world, which I think again, we’ve neglected.
On a more general level we need -- I have this idea in the book called multi multilateralism. I don’t think the United Nations is going to solve any of these big cooperation problems that we face, but if you look at the global economy, we proliferate cooperative institutions all the time to manage orbital slots for satellites and internet domain names and a whole range of things, and I just think that the Iraq war in a sense proves that we are under-institutionalized; that we need more mechanisms out there by which you can get legitimate...
WATTENBERG: You know, that’s the word that comes up again, again, and again in your book, which is “institutions”. We need more institutions. It’s very interesting, as I recall in a very famous series of national interest articles, Pat Buchanan did one; I did one; (unintelligible) did one and maybe Jean Kirkpatrick did one. Do you know who was making that case? Charles Krauthammer was saying we need more institu-- it’s not very exciting, but we need is more institutions. Some of the institutions are very good and we’ve moved out of the World Trade Organization, things like that, some of which, which we have not signed on to the world criminal court, would mean that an American president who decided to travel to Belgium would be arrested. We don’t want to sign. I mean, don’t you have to look at these things case by case?
FUKUYAMA: Right. Absolutely. We need to look at them case by case.
WATTENBERG: You would not be for the World Criminal Court as currently...
FUKUYAMA: Yeah, I think as currently... I think you’d have to really renegotiate that. I mean, in principle the idea is a not a bad one, but I think the current version really needs a lot of work. There’s no blanket endorsement of institutions, but I do think that, you know, that’s the reality of globalization; we’re all in this thing and we’re tied together economically and culturally in a lot of different ways and we have worked out pretty good institutions in each individual country. Liberal democracies have elections, parliaments, presidencies; all that stuff is pretty well worked out, systems of accountability, but we really don’t have any accountability between countries and ways of cooperating legitimately so that people actually do things, you know, because they think it’s right to do and not simply because they’ve made a narrow calculation of self interest.
WATTENBERG: Looking back on it as a student of these things, going back now 60 years, what would you say is the legacy of what those who play inside baseball use the term neoconservatism. Is it good, is it bad, is it indifferent, has it gone overboard? I mean, where do you come out on it?
FUKUYAMA: Well you know, if you look at historical revision, clearly in the short run I think it’s all going to be negative. You go to Europe, right now neocon means American fascist or something even worse. I suspect -– well, first of all it depends on what happens in the Middle East. It could be the all these good things will actually materialize in the next few years in which case neocons will resurrect themselves. And even if that doesn’t happen, there may be an even longer term logic that’s unfolding that we don’t perceive right now that will make people in 25 years say, “Well, you know, these people actually were onto something and maybe it wasn’t so absurd after all.” But I think certainly in the short run it’s a name that is going to have to be lived down rather than one that will define American Foreign Policy in the near term. And I think Bush administration in its second four years has actually been moving steadily away from those ideas.
WATTENBERG: Well, you know, pre World War II, the word isolationism was a very popular word and then it became a curse word because it got us into World War II.
Now, let me ask you, don’t take 20 years; take 50 years, or 75 years. Don’t you think this it’s entirely plausible that when the Frank Fukuyama of the year 2075 looks back on what happened, they would say “Garlands go to the United States of America for having promoted the values of democracy and (unintelligible) liberty around the world”?
FUKUYAMA: I certainly hope that will be the legacy. I think there is a powerful base to build on and I guess the reason that I have been upset over the last few years about American Foreign Policy is that we have done a lot to undermine that legacy in a certain sense, just on the level of ideas and what Americans seem to stand for around the world.
WATTENBERG: And yet, the world insofar as we can measure it is moving toward more democracy, more markets et cetera.
FUKUYAMA: It’s like the stock market. You know the immediate short term trend I think is actually a negative one. I think in the long run the optimism, you know, the optimist will still win out.
WATTENBERG: Well, the last, I mean we can get into an argument -- the last data I saw from Freedom House is that in the last year we have this 27 countries moved up and seven moved down.
FUKUYAMA: The larger critic in my book is that the democratization is actually a part of larger package and a larger strategy meant to deal with September 11th and radical Islamism and I just think that the major components of the Bush option got things wrong. I mean, it was based on the idea that you have to preemptively go and get terrorists which is fine if you are dealing with Osama Bin Laden, but that wasn’t Iraq. Iraq was not a terrorist organization and I think the idea that America would be able to use its margin of superiority, its hegemony, and see that legitimated by the rest of the world was also a mistake.
WATTENBERG: On the current political scene, and we’re talking in May of 2006, is there anyone that you see on the American political landscape that would embody Fukuyama 102, I mean is it John Kerry, is it John McCain, is it Hillary Clinton is it Joe Lieberman, do you have some ace, you know, ace up your sleeve?
FUKUYAMA: Not an ace up my sleeve. I think that a more centrist republican would probably do well against what seems to me still pretty inevitable, Hillary Clinton...
WATTENBERG: Who -- when you say a centrist republican, name two.
FUKUYAMA: Well, John McCain or Chuck Hagel. I think Hagel is out of questions for the conservatives so he probably won’t get it, but McCain has a shot at the nomination and even if he doesn’t get the republican nomination he could still run as an independent because I think people don’t like polarization.
WATTENBERG: That would be my ticket is McCain/Lieberman, but McCain -– but McCain would not agree with what you are saying. He is a serious pro-freedom hawk on Iraq, notwithstanding the fact that he’s objected to, a lot of what Bush has done.
FUKUYAMA: But he’s also not subject, I think to a certain kind of group think that a lot of conservatives are and so I, you know, he probably gets a fair amount of credit for that. His standing up to the on the prisoner abuse issue I think is a good example of that.
WATTENBERG: What comes next for you?
FUKUYAMA: You know, I really need to recharge my batteries. I have produced three books in the last three years and I feel a lot of times that you can either write and talk or you can actually read and think and I want to do the latter for a bit.
WATTENBERG: That’s a great human ability which is to be able to sit back and read and think. I get -- when I do that I get all antsy.
OK Frank Fukuyama, we will have to end it there. Thank you very much once again for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please be sure to send your comments via email. We think it makes our program better. For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.
Announcer: We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 4455 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite C-100, Washington, DC 20008 or email us at thinktank@pbs.org. To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS online at pbs.org and please let us know where you watch Think Tank.

Funding for Think Tank is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Back to top

Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.

©Copyright Think Tank. All rights reserved.
BJW, Inc.  New River Media 

Web development by Bean Creative.